Five reasons why the NFL won't make meaningful improvements to officiating

The NFL has been around for more than 100 years. In that time, not much has been done to change the way games are officiated.

To this very day, it's 30 feet of chain and two sticks to determine a first down. And it's the naked eyes of middle-aged men and women who have no helmets or pads among and around the well-armored gladiators that try to figure out what happened on the field.

Yes, replay review helps. The slowly expanding incorporation of the sky-judge concept makes things better as well. But these are Band-Aids, not solutions. The league needs to tear down the current officiating function and rebuild it in light of the many technologies that are now available to assist with the process of getting every call right.

Are that many officials on the field needed? Couldn't some of them move to the booth level, monitoring the action from there while also reviewing all TV cameras in real time?

What about a full embrace of digital technology to determine whether a first down has been secured, or whether a touchdown has been scored? Given the ongoing advances in AI (which hopefully won't result in all of us ending up DOA), there surely are ways to know what happens without someone having to actually see it happen.

But the NFL won't do it — not until (for example) Congress creates an agency to regulate pro sports. And that could happen, in time. Until that time comes, nothing will change.

After years of thinking, talking, and writing about this issue, and securing viewpoints from a wide array of coaches and executives, here are the five reasons why it won't happen.

1. Money.

The NFL is cheap. More accurately, the NFL won't spend money unless it sees a potential return on the investment.

The NFL doesn't see the benefit of spending the money necessary for adjustments such as full-time officials or a full embrace of digital technology. The perceived increase in accuracy doesn't offset the actual increase in expense.

I could go on and on about this. Why do it? Few will disagree. The NFL likes making money. It doesn't like spending money. That's not a surprise; every business acts that way.

But remember that when the NFL spouts off about integrity of the game or whatever. At the end of the day, every decision aimed at making things better from an integrity standpoint will be balanced against how it affects things financially.

2. Effort.

Here's an angle that a high-level source with one of the NFL's teams recently pointed out. Beyond what massive improvements would require in the way of money, it would take time and effort.

There would need to be meetings, discussions, conversations. People who already have enough work to do would have to find time to put in even more work. And for what? What's the upside? What's the benefit?

It's human nature to not try to complicate our lives. Anyone within the league office who tries to spearhead an effort to revolutionize officiating would be complicating his or her life — especially when trying to sell the idea to others who do not wish to complicate theirs.

3. Incompetence.

When I was a kid, my parents made me cut the grass. My official position was that I had horrible allergies. My unofficial reality was that I just didn't want to do it.

So I screwed it up so badly that they never asked me to do it again.

Rewind to 2019. The NFL implemented replay review for pass interference calls and non-calls. And they screwed it up so badly that they can now hide behind that experience as the front-line defense to any push to make big changes.

The buzz words are "unintended consequences." The reality is that the people who are well compensated to run the sport should be equipped to envision and account for all potential consequences.

If they are, they don't want to. If they aren't, they won't have to.

4. "Embrace debate."

At one level, the NFL hates the extra scrutiny that comes from officiating blunders. On the other hand, the NFL loves it.

Several years ago, Rams coach Jeff Fisher — who also was the co-chair of the Competition Committee at the time — said during a visit to PFT Live that the periodic officiating controversies give the media something to talk about. He said it somewhat jokingly. Like every joke, a kernel of truth was rattling around in it.

The scrutiny of officiating becomes something that drives media conversation, until the next slate of bright, shiny objects arrive on the conveyor belt. Then, the latest controversy is forgotten and all focus shifts to the next game(s).

It keeps any of the various officiating blunders that happen during the regular season from getting real traction. And it's why most changes will come only after a major controversy happens in the postseason, like it did in the Rams-Saints 2018 NFC Championship.

5. The NFL doesn't need to do anything.

This is the best reason to explain why nothing will happen. There's no reason to change. People keep flocking to games. Millions keep watching. Money keeps flowing.

Why change anything that doesn't have to be changed? Why fix what isn't broken?

Yes, officiating in many respects is broken. But how broken is it if it's not causing the NFL to go broke?

From the team's perspective, the bad calls even out over time. Indeed, for every bad call that happens to one team, there's a good call that happens to the other.

For all of these reasons, the NFL won't overhaul officiating voluntarily. Instead, the status quo will remain until a major scandal happens and, as the dust settles, some governmental authority forces the NFL to reimagine all things about officiating games in a way that gets as many calls right as possible.

Until then, nothing will happen.